Record fine for NSW organisation

12 July 2017

Record fine for NSW organisation

An organisation in New South Wales has recently been convicted and fined a record $1 million for offences under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW) (“WHS Act”) after its Director intentionally let a subcontractor work near live high-voltage powerlines to avoid delaying a construction project.

District Court Judge Andrew Scotting fined WGA Pty Ltd (“WGA”) $1 million, plus an additional $50,460 in costs after finding the organisation guilty of breaching sections 19(1) and 32 of the WHS Act last month.

WGA was in charge of a residential construction site on King Georges Road in Sydney and engaged a subcontractor to install windows in a set of apartments.

In June 2014, the subcontractor was standing on scaffolding at the front of the apartments and mounting angles on the windows, when the angle he was holding came in contact with overhead powerlines.

The worker suffered an electric shock and appeared to be on fire after being thrown back onto the scaffolding. In the accident, the worker suffered burns to 30 per cent of his body and required wide-ranging medical treatment and rehabilitation.

During the course of the trial, it was revealed that a SafeWork NSW inspector found scaffolding on the outside of the apartments. The court found that WGA was issued with two improvement notices in the weeks preceding the accident, and that the scaffolding could not be used by a person without putting that person within three metres of high-voltage upper powerlines.

WGA sought but failed to get approval from Sydney Trains, which owned the powerlines, to isolate them in June 2014 so that work could be carried out. The WGA director then “pleaded” with the subcontractor to install the angles on the windows facing the powerlines because the work needed to be completed before scaffolding was removed the following weekend, he found.

It was determined that the subcontractor had not been told of the presence of live powerlines, nor had he been warned not to go onto the window ledge unless power was isolated in those lines.

In making his determination, Andrew Scotting J held that while the employer was aware of the magnitude of the risk, he failed to communicate this risk to the subcontractor and still required that he work in unsafe conditions. In doing so, WGA demonstrated a blatant disregard of its safety obligations and took no precautions to avoid a known risk.